Centre for the Study of Conflict
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster
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A Discussion of Parading Disputes in Northern Ireland
The previous sections have reviewed the organisations involved in loyalist parades and the range of parades in which they take part, suggesting some of the historical dimensions that might explain why there are so many loyalist parades compared with republican parades and providing a detailed examination of the disputed events in 1995. This section goes on to analyse the different perceptions that inform the groups involved in the disputes and examines the role of two other institutions that play a role in the dynamics of the conflict - the police and the media.
Many of the views put forward in this section are public knowledge; in addition, a range of individuals and groups connected with the parade disputes has been interviewed - the loyal institutions, resident groups, mediators and police. Some of the results of those interviews inform what follows. Whilst some of the material can be talked about in a general sense, this section tries to draw out some of the elements specific to particular areas which impinge upon the way parades in those areas are understood. Before doing this, however, it is as well to draw together some of the points already covered to try to analyse why parades appear so important in the everyday politics of Northern Ireland.
11.1 The Importance of parades - and why so many?
It is interesting that in The Order on Parade, published recently by the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Education Committee, the ‘sense of tradition’ is taken up as one of the central reasons for parading. The authors describe the ‘sense of linking with past generations’ and the confidence and pride in taking part in a ritual parade’ (Montgomery & Whitten 1995:7). The impression given by this argument is one of the Protestant community expressing unity and continuity overtime. However, the authors fail to take account of the rapid increase in both the number and the range of parades over recent years (see Part One). As ritual events, parades may give the impression of a lack of change, and many participants understand them as ‘traditional’, and therefore depoliticised; but they are clearly part of the present political situation. The perception of ‘tradition’ effectively masks the changes that are taking place. Indeed, it could be argued that the insecurity produced by the turmoil in Northern Ireland over the previous thirty years is one of the reasons that there has been an increase in the assertion of ‘tradition’. It is precisely at times of change that communities require certain identifications with a past to be perceived as more secure. Ironically then the assertion of ‘tradition’ is made in response to broader forces of political change.
The political changes that have taken place are reflected in the number and form of parades. From the mid-1960s the Unionist block has come under considerable political pressure. Since that time a number of political groups have come into existence, some of whom have just as quickly left the scene (see Bruce 1986, 1992). Whilst the Ulster Unionist Party still has the largest electoral support, the DUP is now a significant feature of Northern Ireland politics and Ian Paisley has been the dominant personality within Unionism, as well as the most durable. The Progressive Unionist Party and Ulster Democratic Party may as yet lack a democratic mandate, but they nevertheless carry overt support in a number of areas and are seen as a possible last line of defence by some. These changes in Unionist politics have had consequences for the loyal orders and for parading. At present, the Orange Institution retains its institutional link to the Ulster Unionist Party. The head of the Orange and Black Institutions are high profile members of the Ulster Unionist Party and Westminster MPs. Yet many in the Orange Institution support other political parties and have become increasingly disenchanted with the leadership offered by the Grand Orange Lodge. In terms of parading this has revealed itself in two ways. Firstly, it has weakened the ability of senior members of the Institution to influence local political situations. We have already pointed out that a local identity and local independence are powerfully present within the Orange Institution, and, if the association of senior members with the Ulster Unionist Party is added, one can begin to understand the importance placed on local events and decision-making. Details of the events of 1995, discussed in Part Two, provide ample evidence of this. Those members of the Orange Institution from outside the Portadown area who were involved in negotiations were always aware of the limitations of their position as outsiders. Despite this, the dominant figure at Drumcree both in terms of media representation and crowd control was Ian Paisley who is neither in the Orange Institution nor from Portadown. Paisley was able to legitimise his presence, on the platform and at the negotiations, in terms of his position as an MEP for Northern Ireland, but the reality is that he carried significant support amongst those in the field. As one of those interviewed put it - ‘Paisley represented the crowd’. In other words, those that take part in parades, Orangemen, bandsmen, and spectators are less politically unified than the parade might appear to suggest. This is revealed both in their perceptions of the parades (discussed below) and in the diverse actions and reactions during parading disputes. The disparate nature of Orangeism increases the importance of local parades in relation to the major commemorative parades. It therefore misses the point to suggest to an Orangeman that their parade is just one of 2,500 other ‘Orange’ parades, because it is their parade which is politically and socially significant for them.
The second significant effect of the greater political diversity within unionism has to do with the number and range of parades. The variety of institutions involved in parades reflect that political diversity to some extent. New factions within unionism need to legitimate themselves by drawing upon the past - using names and symbols that indicate a loyalist heritage - and by going out on parade. This is most obviously true in the popularity of blood and thunder bands, discussed in Section 2, and the consequent development of competitive and commemorative band parades, discussed in Section 3. The bands are the common link between all types of parade. Nevertheless, there are very real tensions between the bands and the loyal orders, particularly the Orange Institution. Editions of the UDA and UVF magazines that are produced around the July period are often critical of senior Orangemen, yet strident in the defence of the right to march. Since the 1 970s the Orange Institution has distanced itself from paramilitary groups and has attempted to control, albeit not always successfully, both the behaviour of bands and the appearance of paramilitary insignia on the main commemorative parades. Many local lodges are much more at ease with the roles the bands attempt to play in parades than are senior Orangemen. Indeed, the lack of success in imposing controls on local events, indicates, yet again the lack of power in the hierarchy of Orange Institution. Elements of the Orange tradition appear in paramilitary regalia, and references to paramilitary groups and figures can be found on some flags and banners carried on parades. On the other hand, there are examples where there have been clear divisions between the Orange Institution and the bands. In Downpatrick, the annual band parade has been consistently re-routed from the centre of the town, while events organised by the Orange and Black Institutions continue to go through the town. The local police differentiate between a band parade and an Orange parade, a situation which the local District Orange Lodge has been happy to accept.
There are also differences between the loyal orders despite the significant overlap in membership. The more conservative Black Institution has a high number of elderly members and appears to be more likely to avoid controversy by re-routing parades than the Orange and the Apprentice Boys. The Black is seen by members as the most religious of the orders and it is less willing to accept the more overtly political symbols in its parades. On the other hand, the Apprentice Boys are generally more independent in their political position, with their politics perhaps leaning towards that of the DUP. Unlike the Orange Institution they have no formal links with the UUP, and therefore may be a little more acceptable to supporters of the DUP. Ian Paisley is at present a member of the Apprentice Boys, although even that relationship has not been without its problems. The Apprentice Boys do not appear to be as strict with regard to the type of flags flown at their parades, to the extent that in the last few years Ulster Independence flags have been carried by some clubs.
Ironically, it is the very diffuseness of power within loyalism that has led to the plethora of different types of parades that now take place. Different sections draw upon parading for their own legitimacy and as a sign of their greater loyalty. To people outside the bands and the loyal orders, each parade is just one more ‘Orange march’, but to those taking part each parade holds particular personal localised political significance. To many people outside the bands and loyal orders it feels like the parades are a conspiracy to rule the streets of Northern Ireland each summer, whereas to those taking part each particular parade expresses its own variant of an increasingly disparate loyalism. The greater number of parades is not a reflection of the strength and unity of the unionist cause, rather it is an indication of just the opposite.
Taking into account the wide range of parades that exist, it is worth examining in more detail the ways in which the different parties involved in the disputes perceive what is taking place. Political differences between groups are of course quite real: but some of those misunderstandings stem from different perceptions of what parades mean. Increasing understanding may not cure the problem, but it might offer insights into the feeling involved, and it may also provide some reasons why mediation of disputes has been so difficult.
11.2 Why are loyalist parades opposed?
The perception that the Orange Institution is an ‘instrument of oppression’ is drawn firstly from the understanding that the commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne is ‘triumphalist’ - the commemoration of a victory of Protestants over Roman Catholics - and secondly from the actual experiences of many Catholics since Northern Ireland was established. There is much about a parade that can be perceived as triumphalist. The banners carry images of battles and individuals deemed central to the Protestant cause. Not only is King William’s sword invariably aloft, but the ranks of the individuals on parade are guarded by weapons such as swords and pikes, albeit that these weapons are symbolic and ceremonial. Many of the tunes played by the bands commemorate victories over Catholics - at Derry, at the Boyne, at the Diamond and at Dolly’s Brae. The chant by supporters of ‘we’re up to our necks in fenian blood, surrender or you’ll die’ is hardly likely to make a watching Catholic feel at ease. For many Catholics there is little that is religious about the Orange Institution, it celebrates and represents political victories - it is triumphalist.
The Orange Institution, however, is seen as more than simply symbolising triumphalism. It was, and to a certain extent is, part of the Northern Ireland state, from which many Catholics feel alienated. The connections between the Orange Institution and Stormont governments are well documented and undeniable (Harbinson 1973, Bew, Gibbon & Patterson 1995). Fionnuala O Connor has described some of these recollections in her valuable work In Search of a State: Catholics in Northern Ireland: ‘The memories are of the noise and bluster of the Twelfth, police guarding Orangemen who drum their way past Catholic homes and churches ... ‘ (O’Connor 1993:152)
In the early 1970s residents of the lower Ormeau Road had their roads blocked by high screens and army jeeps on the Twelfth of July, and in some places these tactics are still used. Indeed, one year residents were bussed down to Newcastle in County Down to avoid the Twelfth, only to find another Orange parade taking place there! In 1972 residents of Obins Street in Portadown saw 50 UDA men line the route of an Orange parade apparently with a view to protecting it. The general feeling was that, whatever Orangemen would get up to the police would protect the parade route.
Since the demise of Stormont, Orange parades have still been able to take place relatively unhindered and they seem to grow in number year by year. They are perceived as an attempt to reassert territorial dominance. Catholic and Protestant areas have become highly segregated and demarcated and, whilst Orangemen have continued to march over streets in nationalist areas, nationalists have been unable to march in their own town centres. These feeling are particularly acute in Portadown and Lurgan where a large number of loyalist parades take place, whilst no nationalist parades are allowed into the town centre. At a meeting late in 1995 two members of the Garvaghy Road Residents Group in Portadown summarised the situation:
Nationalists in Portadown live in one corner ... Parades go on in Portadown for two, if not three, months - every Saturday morning I’m woken up to the sound of Orange bands banging their drums in the town, because we can hear everything, its not a big town, we can here everything from where we are. Everyone will tell you it’s a terror to go, if you’re going shopping at the weekends or even sometimes during the week, because you’re stopped at a parade and there’s absolutely nothing you can do. Over the streets in Portadown there are 6 arches representing ‘No surrender’, ‘Victory’ and statues of King Billy, and while they’re going up everyone has to wait and put up with them and the place is covered with flags.
In Portadown unionists outnumber nationalists by roughly a 4:1 majority, with the nationalist community living in one small corner of the town consisting mainly of the Garvaghy Road and Obins Street. Each July the whole town, especially the town centre, becomes saturated with red, white and blue bunting, Union Jacks and images of King Billy. The sense of tension is very high during this period. Many weekly shopping trips to the town centre are abruptly ended as the news spreads of yet another loyalist band parade and panic sets in until you reach the safe haven of home … Many teenagers are afraid to go shopping in the evenings after school, afraid their religion might be recognised through their school uniforms.
The number of parades that take place appears to many nationalists to be threatening and a constant irritation. All the organisations seem the same to them - Orange, Black, Apprentice Boys - the same people with the same bands. The reasons for parades appear to be just another excuse to impose themselves in areas where they are not wanted; it is argued that it is not necessary to hold a parade to go to church. On the lower Ormeau they are particularly baffled as to why members of the loyal orders need to parade into the city centre to get onto a bus to travel to a venue miles away. Streets are blocked by police so that people cannot go shopping. In short, in areas where communities are so clearly bounded, why is there a need for a group to parade where it is not wanted? It appears to be little more than ‘coat trailing’.
A further aspect of the resentment felt towards ‘Orange parades’ is the massive policing that accompanies them. The police are seen to be protecting the parades and hemming residents in. For many people who view the police with suspicion anyway, the police almost appear to be part of the parade, as they lead the Orangemen down the road. The sensitivities of those in the area are perceived to be largely ignored and suspicions often remain that the police are doing the bidding of those in the parade. Because of the volatile nature of the disputed parades the scale of the police operations appears to residents as oppressive. In Bellaghy hundreds of police enter the town to protect the parades. On the Twelfth of July the area of the lower Ormeau was effectively sealed off to force the parade through. A further operation for the Apprentice Boys parade in August led to some ugly scenes as police discipline appeared to breakdown. Similarly, on the Garvaghy Road, the intensive policing of the area on the night before the Drumcree Church parade is bitterly resented and is seen as preparing the way for yet another Orange parade. Comparisons with events surrounding Civil Rights parades in 1969 become unavoidable, despite the great changes that have taken place within the RUC.
For many nationalists ‘Orange’ parades are not only symbolic of past oppression but still effectively impose themselves where they are not wanted. Dissatisfaction can reveal itself in a number of ways. Most Catholics, and significant numbers of Protestants, either do their best to ignore the parades, or around the Twelfth, leave Northern Ireland. Others choose actively to protest against the parades, whilst a few get involved in civil disturbances, even attacks on Orange Halls. In recent years there had been regular disturbances on the Garvaghy Road on the night before the Drumcree Church parade. Such disturbances are a clear indication of the tensions that arise over the parades. They are acts of resistance just as much as an organised demonstrations on the road. Only in 1995 were residents groups able to keep the kids off the streets and avoid confrontations with police.
There is also a feeling amongst the protesters that the paramilitary ceasefires was somehow the start of a new era. Some people felt that it was safe to come out and publicly demonstrate against the parades. Prior to the ceasefires there was also concern that people seen protesting at parades might well suffer intimidation at work. For the first time many nationalist residents felt that they could now express their opinions in public and look for ‘parity of esteem’.
There is not necessarily agreement amongst residents as to what the future of parades in their area should be. Opposition to the parades is strong, yet there are clearly differences as to exactly what arrangements might be acceptable. Some residents would be happy never to see another Orange parade, while others would concede that, given changed circumstances, they could see Orangemen parading through the area. Also, not surprisingly, in more mixed, or middle class, areas opposition to parades is not as vocal. Nevertheless, there is evidence of a widespread disapproval of certain aspects of parades in both the Catholic and Protestant communities. An opinion poll, commissioned by the Irish News last summer, found that 25% of Protestants and 77% of Catholics thought loyalist organisations should not march in nationalist areas. The combined figures showed that 42% of people thought loyalist parades should have the right to march in nationalist areas, 47% thought they should not with 11% don’t knows (1N23-8). A recent community report of the Ballynafeigh area, which is broadly mixed, noted that only 36% of Protestants and 6% of Catholics watched or took part in the parades, while 62% of Protestants and 74% Catholics saw the Twelfth as introducing more tension to the area.
Most Protestants in the sample remarked that the twelfth was not as well supported as it used to be, that people go on holiday and the area is too tense, especially since the betting shop murders. Some respondents complained of bonfires being built too near houses, or of a younger element indulging in heavy drinking and rough behaviour over the twelfth. Most of the Catholics in the sample remarked on the increased tension and fear during the period. They either went away or stayed indoors until it was all over (Hanlon 1993: 36).
The majority of Protestants questioned highlighted the murders at the bookies on the lower Ormeau as being one of the causes of unease and antagonism, whilst Catholics described their increased fear of intimidation and sectarian attack (Hanlon 1994:35-37). These two examples illustrate that many people from both communities are not keen on parading. In addition to the main issues, they resent the traffic delays and the litter caused by parades, and there are frequent remarks about the way pedestrians are treated if they try and cross a parade. Opposition to particular parades and to parading in general comes from a coalition of a number of different republican and nationalist groups, but also from some in the Protestant community. It is certainly at its most intense within nationalist areas through which parades take place, but there is clearly a more general resentment, in the wider population, of the number of parades and the behaviour of those taking part.
11.3 Support for loyalist parades in disputed areas
The parades celebrate the Protestant religion and culture and their survival in Ireland. They also celebrate the political and cultural links with mainland Britain which guarantees a pluralist society which can tolerate religious and ethnic diversity as compared with the exclusive nature of the Gaelic/Catholic Irish Republic (Montgomery and Whitten 1995:6)
For many loyalists parading thus becomes emblematic of their attempt to defend themselves from demands for a united Ireland. It is not simply the desire to walk on a particular road but part of a wider territorial dispute. This perception was taken to its extreme by Ian Paisley in his speech to the rally during the stand-off at Drumcree on 10 July 1995.
If we cannot go to our place of worship and we cannot walk back from that place of worship then all that the reformation brought to us and all that the martyrs died for and all that our forefathers gave their lives for is lost to us forever. So there can be no turning back. ... And there’s a sacrifice to be made by us all and if we don’t make that sacrifice our cause will be lost. And if it is lost in Portadown, it’s lost, our cause, our county and our future, brethren, is gone from us and we better remember that tonight.
A similar argument was made over the Apprentice Boys parade in Londonderry. Of course, many Orangeman would not take seriously such apocalyptic views over one parade, albeit in the symbolically important locations of Portadown or Londonderry. But the speech does draw upon a general perception that parades are representative of the position loyalists presently feel themselves to be in. These events are not seen in isolation but as part of a general sense of attacks on the Protestant population, including areas like employment and education.
One of the effects of relying upon the use of ‘tradition’ to legitimise a parade is that re-routing along a non-traditional route could significantly weaken the rights of the Institution in the future. In The Order on Parade this particular point is made:
Agincourt Avenue is neither a traditional route or a main road. To parade along it could lead to parading past Roman Catholic houses -where there has not previously been a parade. Given the political motivation of some people this could have created new problems (Montgomery and Whitten 1995:6).
Once lost, a route might never be regained, but the new route - given that it is not traditional - would be significantly harder to defend. Orangemen in Portadown would still rather parade their traditional route along Obins Street rather than the Garvaghy Road.
The major growth area in parade numbers has probably come from band parades. The legitimisation of these parades is not quite so closely linked with the idea of tradition, although some bands are well established: the Ballynafeigh Apprentice Boys Flute Band is over a hundred years old.
Whilst bands do not always express their right to parade in terms of a traditional route they do see themselves as continuing within a traditional cultural form. Bands and members of the loyal orders see parading as an expression of their cultural identity. Since most of the band-parades do not follow controversial routes their right to parade is less often questioned. There are only a few disputes every year that directly involve band parades.
An argument used in conjunction with that of cultural identity is that the Orange Institution is fundamentally a religious organisation. When the protest is concerned with a church parade, it is perceived, poignantly, as restricting the rights of individuals to go to and from their place of worship. In August, when the Apprentice Boys parade down the Ormeau Road was threatened, some Apprentice Boys in County Down suggested they might blockade Catholic churches. Ironically the local Catholic church in the Ormeau area is at the top of the Ormeau Road, so that some residents of the lower Ormeau go up the road to church. This threat, however, was quickly criticised by the leaders of both the Apprentice Boys and the Orange Institution. Orangemen would argue that the ‘civil and religious liberty’ they believe in protects everyone’s right to proceed to church. The religious rather than political element to Orangeism has been felt so keenly by some, that they have found the overtly political side almost polluting of the religious side. In the 1950s and early 1960s there was a movement in some rural areas, notably in County Antrim, to have no political speeches, and just a religious service at the Twelfth field. To this day there are meetings on the Twelfth that do not have set piece political speeches. The central feature of the Apprentice Boys’ parade in August is a service in St. Columb’s Cathedral, and there are no political speeches. To many outside, including some Protestants, the idea of Protestant witness is difficult to understand but does help to explain why church parades are seen as symbolically so important. One Orangeman at a meeting recently pointed out that "Protestantism comes from the word ‘protestatio’, meaning ‘witness’ - a stand for something". Orange parades becomes the public expression of those beliefs.
The majority of Orangemen, however, see the disputes as political as much as religious. Whilst Ian Paisley claimed it was an alliance of the Jesuits and Sinn Féin that blocked the Garvaghy Road, most Orangemen would just see the Republican movement or the ‘pan-nationalist’ front as being to blame. Amongst loyalists on the Ormeau Road, in Portadown, in Castlederg, and in Londonderry it is the activities of Sinn Féin - particularly during the cease-fire - that have heightened tensions over parading. The residents groups are seen as dominated by republican political activists. On the Ormeau Road, the LOCC is seen by loyalists as unrepresentative of the area and responsible for dividing the Ormeau Road into the lower and upper Ormeau. In conjunction with this, the local memory that the area in dispute was largely Protestant, and the belief that they were intimidated out, only hardens the resolve to walk the traditional route. In Portadown, the Garvaghy Road housing is relatively new and was built where there used to be open fields. In Castlederg the area to the north of the town, which is now perceived to be Catholic, was once a venue for the Twelfth. More than one Orangeman has mentioned the possibility that the centre of Belfast will become surrounded by nationalist areas and that the whole Twelfth in Belfast would therefore be brought into question. Give away your rights in one area and they will just attack them in the next. If it’s the Ormeau Road this year will it be the Short Strand next year?
Parading disputes can easily be understood in terms of the wider territorial dispute. Areas proclaiming ‘No to sectarian marches’, like the ‘No Go’ areas in the early 1970s, are seen as just another diminution of British authority within Northern Ireland. This, of course, is also why the flying of the tricolour is treated with such anger and why most nationalist parades would be unacceptable through loyalist areas or into civic centres. Indeed, one Orangeman who was interviewed suggested that it is the flying of the Union flag that nationalists really object to in an Orange parade. He said he would accept the rights of Catholics to parade up the Ormeau Road as long as the tricolour was not carried. It is important to realise, therefore, that in this sense the dispute over parades is not seen as one of ‘rights’ or ‘parity’ but one in which one side’s loss is the other side’s gain. In these circumstances, compromise becomes perceived as defeat. The resulting celebrations by Unionist politicians when the parade was allowed down the Garvaghy Road on 11 July 1995 was seen as just another indicator of this need to claim victory at all costs.
Some of these more principled arguments are augmented by practical ones. In all the areas where parades have been challenged, concerned loyalists dispute the argument that they set out in some way to disturb, offend or intimidate Catholics. Reference is often made to the 1950s and 1960s when there were very few objections to the parades and Catholics would often come and watch the Twelfth. There seems to be an infinite number of stories of Orangemen sharing their banner poles with Hibernians or an Orange band sharing its instruments with the local Hibernian band - the conclusion being that if Catholics were not intimidated in the past, then they should not be now. It is also argued that the parades on the disputed routes last a short time, taking only minutes to pass a given point, that they usually take place early in the morning or on a Sunday afternoon, and that most of the routes do not directly pass residential properties. Most of the properties on the Ormeau Road are commercial rather than residential - the houses being on side streets not on the main road. Similarly, the houses on the Garvaghy Road are set well back from the road, there are very few Catholic houses passed by the band parades in Castlederg or Downpatrick, and the walls of Derry are some distance from the Bogside. Orangemen say that they are using the public highway, which they believe they should have every right to use, and, in the case of the Ormeau Road they are using a major road into the city: in short, they believe that residents go out of their way to be disturbed.
There seems to be no clear reason why this should be so. Apart from the route taken, there are many reasons to suggest that much of the content of parades have been recently introduced and in fact are more reflective of present day politics. One might also ask other questions of tradition: When does a parade become ‘traditional’? How does one decide what bits of a parade are or are not traditional? What makes a traditional parade so authentic? It is also debatable whether a traditional ‘right’ necessarily carries precedence over other sorts of ‘right’. In other words, the right to parade appears to be treated as greater than the right not to suffer unwanted parades.
Many in the loyal orders also misunderstand the roots of nationalist objections. If members of parading organisations believe that behind the objections to parades is simply a republican plot to destroy Orangeism or ‘British culture’; then they are severely underestimating the nature and depth of the resentment that many people feel. That resentment is not just cynically political but is based upon the direct experience that many have had with parades and the historical position of Orangeism within Northern Irish society. When Sinn Féin produce pictures of policeman wearing Orange sashes they may well be dealing in rhetoric, rather than the reality of the present relationship between the Orange Institution and the RUC; nevertheless they are articulating the sense of grievance that many Catholics feel over the involvement of Orangeism in the state of Northern Ireland. For many nationalists, claims by the Orange Institution to be supporters of civil and religious liberty sound rather hollow in the light of the treatment their cultural expression has received when compared to those of the Orange tradition. There has been a restriction on nationalists’ right of cultural and political expression in Northern Ireland, although most nationalists see it as another ‘Orange parade’ amongst a summer of ‘Orange parades’ and ‘Orange parades’ are inevitably political. Most nationalists do not expect, indeed, would not want, to see a complete end to Orangeism or to Orange parades. They may not like Orangeism but they would recognise the right of Orangemen to parade, as long as the limitations of those rights were recognised. What nationalists do look for are signs within Orangeism there is some understanding as to why others feel such resentment.
11.4 The Police and Policing
This situation has been made yet more complicated by an increase in tension between sections of the Protestant community and the police. This is particularly true in Portadown where the major disturbances that took place in 1985 and 1986 clearly did significant damage to this relationship. It is regularly pointed out in the Chief Constable’s Annual Report, that parading makes the policing of all the communities in Northern Ireland more difficult.
One of the commonly held suspicions amongst the residents in areas of dispute is that the police and the loyal orders are working together. There are a number of reasons for these suspicions. The majority of police officers are Protestant and they clearly have greater connections with that community. Any police force tends to defend the status quo, and in this case that means defending the historical dominance of the loyal orders in the area of public political expression. Therefore, the RUC seem to facilitate the vast numbers of parades without question, and large numbers of police swamp an area before the parade starts so that residents are hemmed in during the parade. Nevertheless, much of what takes place on the parades suggests that this understanding of the relationship between the security forces and the loyal orders is dated. It is important to remember that the Public Order (NI) Order of 1987 effectively imposed controls on loyalist parades that did not previously exist, and removed the legal protection that ‘traditional parades’ had been given under previous Stormont legislation. It would now be fairer to say that there can be considerable antipathy between the police and sections of the parade. During the band parade in Downpatrick on 22 October 1995 nineteen different bands walked up to the police lines that blocked the route into the town, and each band taunted the police in turn. A couple of bands hurled fireworks and other objects at the police, who remained disciplined in the front of this largely symbolic onslaught. There have since been charges laid over the incidents. It could of course be asked whether the police would have shown such patience towards a republican parade, but then in that situation the dynamics of mistrust in the relationship are clearly different. However, it is difficult to watch incidents such as this, and the events at Drumcree, and conclude that the loyalist parading organisations have a cosy relationship with the RUC.
In dispelling the idea that the police are somehow facilitating each and every parade, that is not to say that the police have been able to become neutral arbiters. The police still tend to defend the status quo. So, in a town such as Lurgan, with an equal proportion of Protestant and Catholics, the ‘traditional’ loyalist parades are given access to the town, yet a variety of republican parades are not. Nevertheless, interventions in Portadown in 1985/86, and in the Ormeau Road in 1995/96 amongst others, and the access given to republicans to the centre of Belfast and Castlederg does suggest a willingness on the part of the RUC to change the situation.
The police position on the control of the parades is that they have to be guided by the Public Order (NI) Order 1987. This demands that advance notice of seven days must be given of the route, time, size and organisers of a parade plus the names and numbers of bands taking part. The act allows certain conditions to be imposed on a parade if a senior officer reasonably believes that:
Alternatively, if the situation warrants it, a parade can be banned after referral to the Secretary of State, who normally consults the committee of the Police Authority of Northern Ireland. The Order further deems it an offence to prevent or hinder any lawful public procession or annoy persons taking part in such processions. The Order also prohibits sitting or in any other way obstructing the lawful activity of others, and prohibits the wearing of a uniform signifying association with any political organisation, if the Chief Constable is satisfied that the wearing of such a uniform involves a risk to public order. This law was introduced in the light of the disturbances of 1985 and 1986 in Portadown and is clearly specifically aimed at parade disputes. As with all laws, however, it can be read and used in a variety of ways. Clearly the police can either see the parade as likely to cause the disorder, or the residents demonstration as blocking a legal parade. How does one judge what should be deemed as intimidation?
At many of the disputed parades in 1995 the police waited until the last minute before deciding whether there was likely to be public disorder. Their decision, either to re-route the parade or force it through, apparently depended on which side had amassed the more formidable crowd. The tactic was also used to try and give those mediating the maximum time to get the parties to reach agreement. But its effect was to promote widespread uncertainty. Whilst such decisions are clearly extremely difficult, the result of the tactic they adopted was inevitably to encourage opposed groups to amass as many people on the streets as possible. Consequently, at Drumcree the situation reached a point at which the police appeared stretched to their limits in trying to protect the residents of the Garvaghy Road. Perhaps as a result of this, a month later during the Apprentice Boys parades on the Ormeau Road and on Derry’s walls the police appeared to be more determined to make sure the parade got through. This resulted in violent confrontations in both places. Towards the end of the year, the police began to announce decisions on parades a few days before the parade took place. It is a matter of conjecture whether this was because of threatened legal action from the LOCC or whether it was just seen as a tactic less likely to cause a confrontation.
Having made certain criticisms of police tactics however, it is far from clear whether any of the alternative strategies would have achieved more peaceful results. Other options may well have made the situation worse. The conclusion that nearly everyone interviewed had come to is that alternative methods of arbitrating the disputes should be found. Of course, in any future situation the police will have the final say on what takes place but ideally there needs to be action at a community level which relieves the police of having to enforce a relatively arbitrary decision.
11.5 The Media
The complex flow of information affects the dynamics of the situation. Rumours and gossip spread quickly, and politicians try to make political capital from the situation. In the field at Drumcree on the evening of 10 July any number of stories as to what the state of play was, spread through the crowd. Some of the misleading stories appear to have been drawn from radio reports. While understanding the need for good, frank, open reporting, much of what takes place falls a long way from this ideal. Coverage of the parades by the media tends to be stereotyped and simplistic. The editorial line taken by the local papers has also tended to entrench positions.
There is no doubt that there are fundamental differences of opinion on the ‘right to parade’ which have their roots in the structure of the Northern Ireland conflict. However, there are ways in which the protagonists do understand each other. For example, both sides acknowledge that there is a dispute over territory - which is symbolic of the wider political dispute. To that extent differences in national and religious identification are quite real. But, there are also ways in which the respective groups do not understand each other and consequently interpret each others actions in inaccurate ways. Some of these interpretations may well be politically wilful, others are not. What, therefore, has to be looked at is the possible ways opposing views can be accommodated. Whilst in the short term in areas of dispute this will be extremely difficult, it may well be possible in the medium and long term to produce an environment whereby the likelihood of confrontation is reduced.
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